Three years ago almost to the day, a healthy, overjoyed Marion Bartoli lifted up the Venus Rosewater dish on Centre Court at Wimbledon.
Thursday, the emaciated 31-year-old appeared on a morning chat show rambling at a breakneck pace about a virus she believes she caught in India last February that doctors have been unable to identify, but which has her praying for her life.
The astonishing interview came two days after Bartoli was replaced by former British player Melanie South in the legends' invitational at Wimbledon, an exhibition tournament that features many past champions. She is also doing commentary at the tournament for various networks.
Word of her withdrawal was contained in a brief e-mail.
MARION BARTOLI (FRA) is replaced in the Ladies’ Invitation Doubles event (medical).
Bartoli was said to be furious, although she made no official comment. Two days later, on the television show, she said she completely understood the tournament's decision. "I was just happy to be on a tennis court and have a racquet in my hand, but the doctor said no," she said. "I understand, because my health is on the border limit. But it was like a kid who has cancer, when a famous person comes to meet them, a moment of joy they have during this health problem."
She then launched into an emotional telling of what she's going through.
"I love life, I love to eat, and I want to be alive. Maybe one way my heart is going to stop. But I think my passion for life, and my love for live is keeping me going," she said. "As a Wimbledon champion I’m fighting my hardest to go through it and survive. I want people to understand. I don’t do that to myself on purpose. What I’m going through is absolutely horrendous."
Bartoli said her body can't process protein; she goes into tachycardia. She said she can't type on her cellphone without wearing gloves. She said she could only bathe in mineral water, can no longer wear jewelry and is reduced to eating salads and cucumbers without the skin, because her body won't tolerate it.
"I’m just looking forward to Paris fashion week in October and presenting for Fila. That’s what keeps me alive," she said.
What she said may all be true, but no one out there is buying the reason for a minute.
The subject of women's weight is always a delicate one, even for professional athletes, and Bartoli has received more than her fair share of brutal criticism in that regard during her career and afterwards. Most notoriously, the British tennis broadcast John Inverdale – an insensitive bohunk of the highest order – went after her looks three years ago, the year she won it all.
"I just wonder if her dad did say to her... 'Listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova... so you have to compensate for that," Inverdale said on a radio show.
On the practice courts at the Australian Open in Jan. 2015, it was clear she was struggling with her weight.
By last year's Wimbledon, she looked much healthier.
By the US Open in late August, she had already dropped a significant amount of weight, but she looked great.
But somewhere between then and the late fall, she crossed a very big line.
The Instagram photos of workouts and selfies of her "new body" became a regular occurrence.
By November, when she went to Necker Island to play in Richard Branson's annual high-end charity tournament week, the photos were alarming.
By December, finally aware of the concern fans had for her well-being, she did interviews denying that she was suffering from anorexia, saying she was "getting back to her natural shape" after bulking up for tennis.
She insisted she wasn't on a diet, rather that because she was no longer lifting weights of up to 230 kg., and needing to load on steak and pasta to recover, she was back to being her natural, slim self. She also said that she had accumulated a lot of tension through her tennis career, and the beginning of her new life at design school, and began losing weight little by little.
"When you see me, you can't say, 'She's not well, she's anorexic, her parents aren't feeding her any more," she said in late November. "That theory would ony be possible if I were obsessed with that. But today, it's everything but that. ... If I really wanted to diet, I would have stayed at home, weighed every bit of food, and I couldn't do anything else."
By the Australian Open this year, it became more and more apparent that it was a serious situation. When she appeared on court playing in the legends' event with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, there were gasps in the stands.
An encounter with her in the media restaurant left us concerned, as she came in and headed straight to the condiment stand to empty all of the remaining packets of no-calorie sweetener into her purse. When asked why she was taking them all, she replied testily that there were none left in the players' restaurant, turned around, and left.
Her hair was stringy and thin, her skin sallow and troubled. A brief glimpse of her as she rushed by a few days ago at Wimbledon looking panicked and upset confirmed that things have only deteriorated since then.
By May, when she launched her French Open dress line in New York, she no longer claimed to not be on a diet; instead, she outlined her "gluten-free, sugar free, dairy-free, salt-free and everything organic" regime.
"I love fashion and I love my new body. I'm very happy with myself because I'm exactly how I want to be," she said then. "If you look at the photos, I have the same body today that I had at 16 or 17. I'm thin, but that's the way I am naturally. I'm perfectly happy with where I am now."
Nothing in this timeline fits with the tale she told on Thursday, even if the physical symptoms she's currently experiencing may be all too real. Her struggles began long before the alleged trip to India in February.
You can only hope that despite her isolated life during her tennis career, she has friends and family around her who are doing whatever they can to ensure she gets healthy again.
Since her retirement, Bartoli has been crisscrossing the globe, seemingly in a different country every few weeks, working on clothing designs and accessories. She has also been a commentator for numerous television networks at various tournaments. In short, she has chased excellence in her second career the same tireless way she willed herself into being a Wimbledon champion in her first one. She seems to be chasing ... something, but it seems to be all about the chasing, not the catching.
The tennis tour was a solitary life for her. She was very much under the thumb of her physician father Walter, who once said he considered his daughter as almost a scientific experiment, trying every wacky thing in the book out on her to see if it would help her play better tennis.
The two cut a lonely figure around the circuit, very much a self-contained club that allowed no new members.
Retired at 28, her whole life ahead of her but the principal purpose she had devoted herself to suddenly gone, she no doubt has gone through the same struggles most athletes wrestle with upon retirement.
For more of their young lives, every waking hour was spoken for, consumed by their sporting ambitions. Then, nothing.
Bartoli told Paris-Match that she is headed to a clinic in Italy at the end of Wimbledon to get treated for this "virus". Let's hope, later in the season, that there is some good news.